Saturday, March 29, 2008

A night out with cheap American suds, debating "delegating" and British bands

So tonight, after an endless MLB fantasy draft, one which I had to participate in for the first time from my new home in Chicago, when all my mates were back in Cleveland, I made it out to a nice bar in Bucktown called Cans Bar and Canteen, where, no shit, my first three beers, in cans, were Schlitz, Stroh's, and then Hamm's. (Yes, we were trying to drink downhill, and Hamm's was the lowest we could go. The only other time I can remember drinking Hamm's was when two buddies and I left Cedar Point to pound a couple cans of Hamm's before going back into the park to ride the coasters...not the best idea I can suggest!)

Anyway, most of my time was spent in conversation with a couple co-workers of mine, one originally from New Zealand, who spent a few years in London, and the other fresh from London two months ago, virtually the same day I came from Cleveland. Now, I sat out the vigorous debate they had over the ass-whipping in cricket New Zealand took from England recently by 121 runs, but took place in a couple other interesting discussions.

First, we were discussing baseball, and how so many great players come from small countries like the Dominican Republic and Cuba. I was wondering how it could be that so many great rock bands, especially ones from the 60s, were from Britian. (And so few, if any baseball players.) Ask any rock fan who the generally accepted best bands ever were, and invariably bands such as the Stones, Beatles, The Who, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin come up extremely high. I personally couldn't think of any American band to rival them. (Country and Hip Hop nonwithstanding.) Even recent superbands such as Coldplay or U2 are from the UK (or Ireland, I suppose). Now some lists might mention the Doors or Grateful Dead or Bruce, but it really is indisputable--a great number of great bands are British.

One of my mates mentioned that it is cyclical--the grunge movement from Seattle, the White-Stripes-led Detroit movement, etc. are just a couple recent examples of American movements. The consensus was that maybe Brits just had the talent and the musical soul to put it down on paper and make the music live. (Of course, heavily borrowed from American soul, blues, and R&B influences of the time.) Interesting discussion.

Then we spoke about "football", or as we all call it, soccer. They have an ingenious system of promotion and relegation of teams (noticeably absent in the US.) As noted in Wikipedia, every year teams move up and down from the major league (in this case being the Premier League:

  1. Premier League (level 1, 20 teams): Bottom three teams relegated.
  2. Football League Championship (level 2, 24 teams): Top two automatically promoted; next four compete in the playoffs, with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. Bottom three relegated.
  3. Football League One (level 3, 24 teams): Top two automatically promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the third promotion spot. Bottom four relegated.
  4. Football League Two (level 4, 24 teams): Top three automatically promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the fourth promotion spot. Bottom two relegated.
  5. Conference National (level 5, 24 teams): Top team promoted; next four compete in playoffs, with the winner gaining the second promotion spot. Bottom four relegated, to either North or South division as appropriate.
  6. Conference North and Conference South (level 6, 22 teams each, running in parallel): Top team in each division automatically promoted; next four teams in each compete in playoffs, with playoff winner in each division getting the second promotion spot. Bottom three in each division relegated, to either Northern Premier League, Southern League, or Isthmian League as appropriate. If, after promotion and relegation, the number of teams in the North and South divisions are not equal, one or more teams are transferred between the two divisions to even them up again.
Imagine the fun and angst if the Kansas City Royals had to fight each year for the right to stay in MLB, or be replaced by the Buffalo Bisons or Toledo Mud Hens? What kind of drama and universal fan-ship this could garner in smaller cities all over the country. Would be a cool thing to experience. I didn't know much about this system until Bill Simmons wrote about his search for a team to root for a couple years ago. The one thing that they agreed was best about American style sports was the draft. In England, a George Steinbrenner led team team like Manchester United can simply bid for the best players each year. Imagine if LeBron James could go to a team like the Tulsa 66ers, bolstering their hopes to make it into the NBA, threatening the NBA lives of crappy teams like the then-Cavaliers. Teams who are consistently 20 games out of first would have no choice but to care, and the teams would have to try hard to keep up their fans' devotion.